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442 FW pilot guides lives with goals, balance at Yellow Ribbon

Lt. Col. Todd Riddle speaks about financial planning and balancing lives Sept. 27, 2014, during an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon training weekend in Orlando, Florida. Riddle is an A-10 Thunderbolt II instructor pilot with the Reserve's 442nd Fighter Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and a frequent speaker at Yellow Ribbon events. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Heather Skinkle)

Lt. Col. Todd Riddle speaks about financial planning and balancing lives Sept. 27, 2014, during an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon training weekend in Orlando, Florida. Riddle is an A-10 Thunderbolt II instructor pilot with the Reserve's 442nd Fighter Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and a frequent speaker at Yellow Ribbon events. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Heather Skinkle)

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The irresistible sway of musician Stevie Wonder's song "Superstition" helped Lt. Col. Todd Riddle urge his audience  to "dance like nobody's watching," during his keynote address at an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Program training weekend here Sept. 26-28.

More than 600 reservists and their loved ones rose to the music. In addition to speaking to this group, he later mentored smaller groups in breakout sessions designed to help reservists and those close to them manage their busy lives.

Riddle, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot and the inspector general with the Air Force Reserve's 442nd Fighter Wing, traveled south for the weekend from his home in Missouri. He left his multirole life there -- and came here to resume it. The husband, father of three children, and air reserve technician took time away from his family and job at Whiteman Air Force Base.

He knows the background and significance of the Yellow Ribbon Program: Riddle has deployed four times. His three-legged stool analogy -- "love, life, and dance" -- forms his pillars of deployment preparedness and uses a blend of humor and music to connect with his audiences.

"There's a 'Band of Brothers' thing that goes on with these deployments," he said. "The camaraderie cannot be replaced."

Riddle has channeled his youthful energy with Yellow Ribbon since 2009. The program promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. It began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles. Each year, the Air Force Reserve trains 6,000 reservists and family members in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more via a series of fast-paced conferences.

Following the keynote speech, Riddle explained how he tries to reach out to large audiences.

"When I speak, I check the tenor in the room. As a speaker, I like to put some authenticity and vulnerability into my delivery," he said. "We're all human."

Later on in one of the smaller breakout rooms, Riddle turned up some more classic rock. He tapped his foot to Aerosmith's "Love in An Elevator," making people laugh as they entered the room.

Then it came time for more serious business: balancing busy lives.

"Take a look at the list of your responsibilities, you'll see begin to see that list gets pretty pronounced," Riddle told a room full of men and women, who tracked their challenges on paper. He helped men and women set goals while addressing personal areas in their lives that might need more attention.

"Identify opportunities to bring more balance to specific areas of the list," he said.

Riddle used a wheel as a metaphor for life management.

"How healthy is your wheel going to roll?" he asked, adding some people might have to reduce some of their more enjoyable pastimes to make room in their lives for the ones that aren't as fun. "There might be some good things that you have to quit doing."

Trista and SrA. Christopher Peterson agreed that Riddle inspired them.

"His story was very cool," said Christopher, who recently deployed. He's a reservist assigned to the 87th Aerial Port Squadron with the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. "I liked the way he put everything in perspective. You could see the areas (in life) you need to work on."

Besides a deployment, the couple has other major life's challenges -- Trista recently gave birth to their daughter. "He told us that even though life is really busy, you're still allowed to have fun," Trista said. "You need to."

In addition to his Yellow Ribbon stints, Riddle is part of the Office of Secretary of Defense's Yellow Ribbon speaker cadre, has been a youth pastor, and an emcee.
The veteran pilot called this weekend of tending to his fellow reservists a change of pace.

"This is just a hobby -- to do something completely different," Riddle said. "I enjoy the versatility of the Yellow Ribbon program experience. My wife and I look at this as a unique niche -- a calling of sorts.  Am I sharing a story that might stir someone else's heart? That's my intent. Life is about perseverance. There's success and failure. We quite obviously learn from both."